Category Archives: A window on My World

Dummy’s London

[F]or those of you who take a passing interest in this blog, you might have seen on my sidebar that recently I‘ve been reading a London guide aimed at helping Americans around our Capital City, and what little gems are to be found between the covers of this tome?

The author, Donald Olson, is not someone I have read before, but he clearly loves London with a passion, and has written the guide in small sections that are: to quote him ‘as brief as a bikini’.

dummies He starts by introducing London to the first time visitor, with his recommendations for museums, eating, shopping, and the arts and his personal favourite London charms; moving on a very concise history of the city. A more comprehensive description follows, many of which have icons for: best of the best, heads up where to get a bargain and not be conned; kid friendly and my personal favourite London Tattler, inside gossip.

With an excellent guide to hotels, foreign exchange, first aid, transport and all the information necessary to make a perfect break in London.

However, I take exception to his contention to purchase a strong pair of walking shoes to save on cab fares, and personally I naturally would recommend a taxi tour; all cabs in London have disabled access another error in the 4th edition; and surprisingly he does not recommend the Palm Court at The Ritz for high tea; no doubt these small errors have been rectified in the latest edition.

I particularly liked the description of Madame Tussaud’s: ‘The question is: Do you want to pay the exorbitant admission and devote time to see a collection of lifelike [wax] figures?’ – A polite way of saying avoid like the plague. And on renting a car in London – Not! ‘Manoeuvring through London’s congested and complicated maze of streets can be endurance test even for Londoners’; tell me about it.

But my favourite, and this says something of American’s endurance, is his potted London in three-days: Westminster Abbey; Houses of Parliament; London Eye; Tate Britain; Piccadilly Circus; a West End show; Leicester Square, and that’s just day one. Day two: Green Park; Buckingham Palace; Changing of the Guards; Royal Mews; St. James’s Park; Clarence House; St. James’s Palace; Trafalgar Square; National Gallery; St. Martin’s in the Fields. Day three: Tower of London; St. Paul’s Cathedral; British Museum; Harrods – Cripes! He even expands this to five- or seven-day tours, just where do they get the energy?

It came as a welcome surprise to me to find that this book, clearly designed for Americans to explore our city, taught me a thing or two about London and as a working cabbie I would urge you to read it before crossing the Atlantic. I personally intend to keep a copy in my London cab as this is an excellent reference book for our great City.

In Shackleton’s footsteps

When I start my cab for a day’s work the last thing on my mind is that I’m an intrepid traveller, but surely I must be, for last year when London was covered with 2 inches of snow the Metropolitan Police announced that the roads were ‘too dangerous’ for their patrol cars to venture out. Upon hearing this snippet of news I just shrugged my shoulders, carried on working and entered a moan in my Diary.

[N]ow four weeks later London’s roads are on the cusp of total chaos, all for the want of some salt. According to a recent newspaper article, American weathermen predicted cold of a variety not seen in over 25 years in England, while our own Met Office, after telling us that were to experience a barbecue summer, then told us to brace ourselves for a warmer than average winter in Britain.

So of course London’s councils, ever wishing to reduce spending have run down their supplies of salt, and Boris when questioned about the possibility of London’s roads being impassable, after carefully removing his bicycle clips, told us that London’s councils can’t gear up for the occasional severe winter with all the expense that they would incur for the occasional freak weather.

But hold on just a minute, didn’t the boys from the Met Office predict that we all would experience climate change in our lifetimes, and probably catastrophe would ensue within 10 years if we didn’t stop driving our cars and recycle our baked bean cans?

I hate to admit it but I’m old enough to remember the winter of 1962-3, so please try at least to look like you are interested while I relate to you the severity of that winter.

Snow fell in London on Boxing Day, by the 29th and 30th December a blizzard across south-west England and Wales left drifts 20 feet deep which blocked roads and rail routes, left villages cut off and brought down power lines and thanks to further falls and almost continual near-freezing temperatures, snow was still deep on the ground across much of the country three months later.

In the intervals when snow was not falling, the country simply appeared to freeze solid with January daytime temperatures barely creeping above freezing, and night frosts producing a temperature of -16°C in places. In January the sea froze out to half a mile from the shore at Herne Bay, the Thames froze right across in places, and ice floes appeared on the river at Tower Bridge. February was marked by more snow arriving on south-easterly winds during the first week, with a 36-hour blizzard hitting western parts of the country, drifts 20 feet deep formed in gale-force winds and many rural communities found themselves cut off for the tenth time since Christmas.

Eventually a gradual thaw then set in, and the morning of 6th March 1963 was the first day in the year that the entire country was frost free, and the temperature soared to 17°C in London helping us to recover from a winter that was probably the coldest since 1795.

So don’t tell me about climate change and that we cannot cope when we get 6 inches of snow in London during January.

New Year’s Resolutions

A Happy New Year to anybody who stumbles across this blog, whether by accident or by design. In keeping with the tradition of making a New Year resolution only to break it within one week, I submit for your consideration a selection, which might if adopted, make travelling in London less odious. With more than a glancing nod at an excellent post by my erstwhile colleague The Cabbies Capital, I give you CabbieBlog’s New Year Resolutions:

[T]HE GOOD: Cab drivers are in the main professional, courteous and, well nearly always right. Anyone who drives in London has had a cab stop for no apparent reason in front of him, and if we protest, the cabbie looks done from his eyrie at you in a smug and self righteous manner. Equally cabs are prone to make unexpected u-turns holding up the traffic while the driver completes his manoeuvre sometime without a word of thanks to anyone inconvenienced.

Most cab drivers try to be considerate, it makes no sense for us to damage our vehicles, by careless driving, and it’s our business for God’s sake. So my New Year Resolution will be to thank you profusely for letting me stop, start, pull away, reverse or u-turn near you.

[T]HE BAD: 4×4 drivers. Never I repeat, never give the drivers of these contraptions any consideration. They now have halogen lights to mesmerise you in their presence, just like a cobra with its prey. They approach you and expect you to wait for their next move; the newer ones are now fitted with LED running lights and fog lights to warn the rest of us to get out of their way. If you only keep one resolution this year make it this one.

This is for all of you. Give way means pausing at the line in the road, not with your nose sticking out, its bloody frightening on a bike having a car block your passage (it doesn’t do much for that part of your anatomy either). And that line at traffic lights indicates where you stop behind, not the green coloured tarmac section for bikes.

[T]HE SAD: Pedestrians. Why oh why do you migrate like lemmings near Oxford Street oblivious to the traffic and deep in conversation on your mobile phones? Why stand near a pedestrian crossing often on the zigzags blinking and wondering why the cars don’t stop for you? When you do have the inspired logic to use a pedestrian crossing, wait for the approaching vehicles to stop, don’t walk straight off the pavement expecting that bus to have the stopping power of an F1 car. And why do you have to stand by a pedestrian crossing deep in conversation when you have no intention to cross the road? So just use the grey matter between your ears for once, it might just save your life.

[T]HE MAD: Pizza couriers. These motorised push bikes have the road holding ability of a blancmange. Don’t ride as if you have a death wish, if the pizza is 30 seconds late arriving, tough.

Cyclists. These are some of the most competent of road users, but please, please don’t jump red lights, that boy racer in his dad’s BMW M3 hasn’t seen you, all he is interested in seeing is the green light. And one last comment, pedestrians have right of way on pedestrian crossings, the clue is in the title. I know it’s hard to have to stop once in a while, but your foot will have to touch the tarmac once or twice during your journey home.

[A]ND THE UGLY: As ugly as the back of a bus, is never more true than when one of these 18m monsters pulls out as you are making a feeble attempt to pass it. Just because the Highway Code says we have to give way to you, doesn’t give you the absolute right to move out into traffic at a whim, just use your indicators. And one final comment, when you are ahead of the stated time on the timetable don’t drive at 8 mph.

That’s it then, I know most of this will be ignored, but you know, keep just one of these resolutions this year and moving around London might become enjoyable. Just don’t hold your breath for it to happen. Well, that’s it Happy New Year.

My Favourite Things

[I]t is that time of year when the media is crammed full of trivia, so in the Christmas tradition, here is CabbieBlog’s London favourites:

Neighbourhood: Clerkenwell; I had my first job in London in this small district populated at the time by Italians giving us great delicatessens, a catholic church and an introduction to their beautiful language. The principle industries there were watchmaking and typesetting.

cardinals-wharf-st-pauls Building: St. Paul’s is obscured by other buildings, so the best place to see it is from Bankside on the other side of the Thames, then cross by Millennium Bridge and climb to the top, and don’t forget to visit the crypt.

Open Space: Hampstead Heath, the highest point in London, with its varied landscape and nutcases swimming in its famous ponds.

odcjxtbluspkxdpo_GetAttachment-23_odcjxtbluspkxdpo View: No problem choosing this one, Waterloo Bridge in the evening. Wordsworth got it wrong, when he wrote Upon Westminster Bridge:
Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
Nice sentiment, wrong bridge. But to be fair to Will, Waterloo Bridge wasn’t built then, Ray Davis was right though.

32953 Bar/Pub/Restaurant: Bar Italia on Frith Street, Soho, for the best cappuccino north of the Alps, their espresso machine is over 50 years old and still going strong. Open 24 hours a day, they just kick you out into the street when they want to clean the place. Or for a slightly upmarket tea try Claridges, good value, superb service and no tourists.

London book/film/documentary: London Sight Unseen by Snowdon. I was bought this book a few years ago. Snowdon travelled all over the capital photographing anything unusual or fascinating that caught his photographer’s eye. Or watch the play ‘The Knowledge’ by the late Jack Rosenthal, a brilliant comedy about becoming a cabbie.

oldshop Interesting Shop: Pollock’s Toy Museum and shop in Scala Street near Goodge Street. A fascinating collection of toys from a bygone era.

London street/road/square: Queen Anne’s Gate. Unlike her statute outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, this exquisite little turning which takes its name from the aforementioned queen, encapsulates Georgian London, go there and be amazed that there are still places left in London like this, just don’t tell those modern architects, they’ll want to develop it.

200px-William_Hogarth_053 Londoner: Thomas Coram although born in Lyme Regis and spent much of his early life at sea he’s an adopted Londoner. He later became a successful London merchant, as a great philanthropist Coram was appalled by the many abandoned, homeless children living in the streets of London. In 1739 he obtained a Royal Charter granted by George II establishing a “hospital for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children.” Visit the Foundling Museum near the children’s playing fields which take his name, just don’t go into the playground next door, you must be accompanied by a minor.

Period: 1650-1720 This is the time when London was brought to its knees after the Great Fire of London, yet within decades London was reborn as the greatest city in the world, in addition surviving civil war, plague, drought and bankruptcy. It’s a time when London gave rise to a generation of extraordinary men: Sir Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, John Locke, John Evelyn and Nicholas Barbon.

CabbieBlog’s Milestone

taxi post  big ben In February of this year I started CabbieBlog, a bi-weekly compilation of thoughts and observations from a London cabbie. Along the way I have touched on subjects as diverse as Gordon Brown to Human Lavatories (maybe there is a link to be made here).

Little did I realise at the time that before the year was out over 100,000 people would visit my site, and with satisfying number taking the trouble to leave a constructive comment on over 100 posts.

[L]ooking back on the posts the first on 23rd February is all about roadworks, well after last weeks’ debacle when the Blackwall Tunnel was closed with the result that East London was still gridlocked long after midnight, it would appear that London is now worse than when I first started writing.

So it looks as though I will just have to keep on whinging, but thank you all for helping me let off steam.

My wife has recently put up a fridge magnet which reads:

Everyone is entitled to my opinion

Should I now make this the strapline to CabbieBlog?